Playful learning in higher education

After participating in a course on gamification offered by the Center for University Teaching and Learning (at the ETH and UZH, Zürich), my colleague Dr. Rebecca Welge and I started to think about ways to integrate game elements into our teaching approach. Our aim was to develop a game for educational purpose inside and outside of academia that imparts knowledge and enables participants to form a view on the quality of and the challenges to democracy. To do so, we conducted the seminar “We the people” – Designing Democracy at the Department of Political Science, University of Zurich, (at the M.A. and PhD level) in spring 2016. In this course we introduced game development as an innovative teaching approach and invited students to get actively involved in the process of designing an educational game on democracy.

The goal was to develop a game which includes a cooperative element in which players, together, need to ensure the quality of democracy according to several democratic functions (e.g. individual liberties, rule of law, mutual constraints, participation, representation) to win the game. As well as a competitive element, where each player should aim to maximize different functions of democracy, striving for a different model of democracy (representative, liberal, deliberative, participatory). To help us with the complex issue of the game design process we cooperated with the board game blogger and designer Robert Lovell from ThreeBlindDice.


Based on this experience we realized that the goal of the course was not only to develop an educational game but that the process itself provides an innovative teaching method: the instructed educational game for higher education. This teaching instrument aims at different target groups, namely political science students at universities as well as pupils and teachers at schools. We believe that an instructed educational game is the right tool not only to address learners, but also teachers, who would like to integrate game elements into their teaching portfolio.

In december 2016, we have been awarded with additional funding from the Lehrkredit of the University of Zurich to further develop this educational tool. Moreover, to distribute the educational game as a knowledge transfer product we cooperate with the association Demokrative which fosters civic education in Switzerland.

See video on educational game development (in german):